How many of these Brexit breakthroughs stand up to scrutiny?
RISHI Sunak’s deal has been hailed as finally getting Brexit done. However, ANDREW PIERCE has discovered worrying differences between what Downing Street claims – and what the EU asserts...
CLAIM: Northern Ireland politicians will be able to block new EU laws
REALITY: The PM said they would be able to do this using a device called the Stormont Brake. The British team shrewdly ensured the brake can be pulled only if the DUP has returned to powersharing in the Northern Ireland assembly – an incentive for the
DUP to agree to return to government. But in its own document on the agreement, the EU says the brake can be deployed only against amendments and updates to existing laws, rather than new legislation from Brussels.
And then, only when the ‘amended or replacing EU act, or a part of it, significantly differs in scope or content from the previous one and... would have a significant impact specific to everyday life’.
In other words, as the EU says, it is to be used only ‘in the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort’.
What is more, if a law is rebuffed using the brake, the
EU can retaliate by submitting a claim to the British government for any perceived financial loss. Who would arbitrate on that figure?
CLAIM: Deal removes ‘Irish Sea border’
REALITY: Border checks will be reduced for goods sent from Britain to Northern Ireland, rather than eliminated, as the PM suggested. This will be achieved by the use of ‘ green lanes’ with minimal checks for goods destined to remain in the Province and red lanes with customs for those heading for the Republic of Ireland or on to other EU countries.
It is true checks will be cut to five per cent by 2025. And the EU says goods from Britain that stay in Northern Ireland will ‘see an unprecedented reduction’ in checks. Crucially, however, it adds there is not a ‘full eradication’. One Tory MP said: ‘Sounds to me like there is still a border in the Irish Sea.’
CLAIM: The ban on sausages is over
REALITY: Under Boris Johnson’s original protocol rules, a number of food products deemed high-risk by the EU – including fresh sausages – were banned from entering Northern Ireland. Now, sausages – along with seed potatoes, sandwiches, trees and medicines – will be among British goods freely available in the Province following the deal.
The flipside of this is the introduction of ‘Not for EU’ labels on food products sold in Northern Ireland. From October prepacked meat and fresh milk have to be labelled in that way, with labelling of other goods being rolled out by July 2025. The Government says it will provide financial support for the change. In other words, taxpayers will pay.
CLAIM: VAT or excise duty changes will apply to all of UK
REALITY: So said Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who voted to Remain, at Monday’s Cabinet meeting to discuss the Windsor framework. But was he exaggerating the scale of the victory? The Treasury will be able to apply reduced VAT rates only to goods supplied and installed in ‘immoveable’ property that cannot be taken across the Irish border. In other words, solar panels, heat pumps, wind turbines and so on. Brussels and London are to work on a list of other goods that might qualify because they won’t enter the single market.
And while Northern Ireland will now abide by the Treasury decisions on alcohol duty there is a sharp sting in the tail. The rate will never be allowed to go below the EU minimum.
As for state aid, EU subsidy laws will still apply to Northern Ireland even after the deal.
The EU text says the Windsor deal ‘neither modifies… nor restricts’ the imposition of EU state-aid rules in the Province. Any subsidy that has ‘an effect on trade between Northern Ireland and the EU’ will be subject to EU rules. Which means the UK will be blocked from subsidising certain industries in certain circumstances.
CLAIM: Customs red tape will be slashed
REALITY: British goods staying in Northern Ireland will use a green lane, which will require less paperwork and fewer physical checks.
Only firms who are in a trusted trader scheme can use the green lanes and not all companies are eligible. Goods for the Republic or other EU countries will use a red lane and be subjected to regular customs and strict EU rules.
CLAIM: We changed the original Protocol
REALITY: Brussels disagrees robustly with this assertion by the PM. ‘The Windsor Framework,’ says the EU, ‘ has been fully carried out within the framework of the Withdrawal Agreement, of which the Protocol is an integral part’.
Meanwhile, manufacturing in Northern Ireland will still be controlled by EU laws. While British sausages can now be sold there, any local butcher who wants to make their own will still be subject to the full panoply of EU regulations.
What about the European Court?
The European Court of Justice will remain ultimate arbiter of EU law in Northern Ireland, not least because there are so many areas of trade and life where EU laws apply. So, a foreign court will continue to rule in a sovereign nation.